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Hill cutting in Chittagong: Development at the cost of the environment?

  • Published at 04:59 pm March 3rd, 2018
  • Last updated at 07:53 pm March 5th, 2018
Hill cutting in Chittagong: Development at the cost of the environment?
Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) has disregarded environmental rules by building a six kilometre-long link road through a hilly area of Sitakunda upazila without obtaining the necessary clearance certificate from the Department of Environment (DoE). The hills in Salimpur were razed for CDA’s ongoing project to build a link road from Dhaka Trunk Road to Bayezid Bostami Road at the outer periphery of the Asian University for Women. Last year, the DoE issued two show-cause notices to the project’s director, Rajib Das, and asked him to attend a hearing for unauthorized hill cutting. It also slapped a fine of Tk10 lakh for damaging the ecology and degrading the environment in line with a section of Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2010. In addition to ignoring environmental regulations, such indiscriminate hill cutting is seen as a cause of disasters like landslides, which have killed at least 230 people in Chittagong in the last decade. “Unlike other parts of the country, the hills of Chittagong region consist of crumbling soil so they become vulnerable after heavy rainfall if the surface is not covered with vegetation,” Muhammad Rashidul Hasan, assistant professor at the department of urban and regional planning of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET), told the Dhaka Tribune. “The soil becomes heavy after absorbing rainwater and the steep slopes cannot bear the mass weight of the wet soil or mud, resulting in landslides. There is no risk of landslide if the hills are cut with a slope of 20-30 degrees (but) the slopes cut at 70-80 degrees increases the risks of landslides.” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation for the Tk320 crore link road project on January 30, 2016. The CDA has since submitted a revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the DoE to get a clearance certificate for the project. However, DoE sources said this was still forthcoming. “We have already applied for the environmental clearance certificate for the project and hope to get it within next two weeks,” Rajib Das said. “The project is approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) and has to be completed by the deadline. All necessary safety measures, including slope protection and retaining walls have been included.”

DoE field visit report

A DoE report compiled after a field visit to the project area said the construction of 1.5 kilometre link road from Bayezid Bostami Road to Asian University of Women was already finished. The report said no hill cutting would be required to construct the Dhaka Trunk Road to Faujdarhat Bypass, although some hilly areas along 2.5 km of the route would have to be razed. This was relayed to the DoE field team by the project director, who acknowledged that some portions of the hills were razed for quick implementation of the project, which is due for completion in June 2019. The DoE forwarded its report to the Prime Minister’s office, which in turn directed the Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong to give his opinion before going ahead with the project.

Unsustainable development

Environmental economist M Nur Nobi highlighted the importance of sustainable development and said the environmental costs and benefits must be carefully weighed before taking up any policy and project. “The damage done to the ecosystem should be taken into serious consideration before implementing any project,” said Nobi, who is also an associate professor of Economics Department at Chittagong University. “If the costs are higher than the benefits, then it is not a viable project. At the same time we should try to minimize and compensate for the cost of the project. “If we want to construct a road through a forest, we can restrict the speed and vehicular movement at a certain time for the sake of wildlife. We can also prohibit honking in an attempt to compensate for the environmental cost of the project.”
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